Chapter 17 – Erase All the Pain

As soon as the boys landed in Miami, they were whisked away through the private exit of the airport without so much as a chance to breathe. There was no option for Niall to hang back, he was shoved in with the other four, a tight circle of security around them. Despite still feeling a little awkward, he realized he was just going to have to get used to this.

Their North American tour was officially on the go.

“Can you believe this, lads?” Louis asked, gazing out the tinted window of the car that was driving them to their hotel for the night. They should have been jet lagged, but they were too wired and excited for that. Instead they sat in the car, relishing in the fact that they were actually in America, and were about to embark on their third summer tour there.

After all this time, it still seemed surreal.

While Louis and Zayn looked out the windows and at the skyline of Miami with delight, Harry fiddled around on his phone and Liam and Niall stayed quiet.

Well, Liam tried his best to stay quiet. He couldn’t help but watch as Niall looked out the window as well, but with a look of far less fascination than the others held. Liam knew it wasn’t because Niall was getting a big head about everything. It was because his mind was elsewhere.

He just wished he knew where it was. All feelings for him aside, he’d meant what he said at the hospital. He just wanted their friendship back.

He was really going to try and not let it affect him. It was easier said than done, but Liam was determined to try. He knew Niall wasn’t going to be the one to take the first step, so he had to. Besides, he was going to have to talk to him eventually.

“Exciting, yeah Nialler?” he tried, forcing a smile on his face.

Niall turned to look at him, his eyes still glazed over slightly. “Uh, yeah,” he said with a nod. “Yeah.” He turned to look back out the window, the sunlight illuminating his soft features.

Liam sighed, because he was really trying to not let it affect him.

He opened his mouth, very nearly about to make a joke about South Beach, but then snapped it shut. That would certainly do no good, especially since Niall was obviously not supposed to be partying, he was supposed to be trying to stay clean.

Liam wondered though if Niall wanted to have that intoxicated life anymore. He’d seemed genuine at the hospital. He’d looked a fright – as though he’d really thought he was going to die and maybe that had scared the need to do any more drugs out of his system.

He simply didn’t know, and that pained him. He had no idea what it was like to go through everything Niall had, and it was only getting worse. Before it had just been the Alicia nightmare, but now it was so much more than that.

“Niall,” Harry said, interrupting Liam’s thoughts. Liam tried not to make it look as though he was watching them, though really he was intently listening.

“Yeah?”

“You fancy going out for a bite later?”

Niall just shrugged.

Liam felt his heart break in his chest. It was just another sign that this Niall sitting with them wasn’t the same one that they knew.

“I don’t know.”

“You gotta eat,” Harry reasoned. “And I know you love the restaurants in America. Come on, we can all go out, just the five of us.”

At this Louis and Zayn’s attention was turned from the windows to the other boys. “What’s this?” Louis asked.

“The five of us. Dinner. We don’t have a show tonight. Gotta kick off the tour right, don’t we?” Harry asked with a grin.

Niall smiled just a little and Liam took notice of this. It was times like this was so grateful for Harry. He wasn’t one with the helpful advice or who always made the best decisions, but he always knew just how to be the glue that held the five of them together right when they needed it the most.

Even with something as simple as dinner.

“Yeah,” Liam said. “All right.”

“That’s all well and good, lads,” Paul interjected, glancing back at the five of them. “But don’t forget that when we get to the hotel, Niall’s busy for an hour.”

Liam noticed Niall shift rather uncomfortably.

“Right,” Harry said, not making any direct mention of the fact that Niall had his mandatory first meeting with their travelling counsellor that afternoon. “Well, afterwards.”

“Yeah,” Niall said, breaking the thick silence that lingered in the car. “Sounds good.”

***

Once the boys had arrived at the hotel they had been split up and put into their respective rooms. Niall laid down on his bed. He wasn’t sure what the others were up to, and he didn’t really care. The only thing on his mind was how he was told that he had to stay in his own room because the woman who had been hired to travel along with them was going to be headed there to meet him.

He wasn’t sure if he was looking forward to it or not, to be honest.

For starters, he was annoyed with management for setting this whole thing up. He hadn’t even gotten a say, they’d just hired someone. As far as he knew, she was American because she hadn’t flown over from London with them. Instead he’d been told she was going to meet up with them in Miami.

There was also the added stress of the expectation that he was going to have to divulge all his secrets to a complete stranger. That alone was something he feared, regardless of where this took place, whether on tour or in an office back in Ireland.

Even though the help was being forced upon him, he really did want it. He just wasn’t sure he wanted to take the path to recovery. He wanted to feel better, but he didn’t want to have to go through all of the hard steps of getting to that point. He didn’t want to feel so empty and confused and lost anymore.

Just as he closed his eyes, there was a soft knock at his door.

He sighed, knowing that there was no use in ignoring it. He glanced through the small peephole before unlocking and opening the door.

Standing before him was Paul and a tall woman with shoulder length blonde hair. Niall gulped anxiously and she smiled at him warmly.

“Niall,” Paul said, looking down at the blonde boy calmly, but sternly. “This is Jessica.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” she said, holding out her hand for him to shake.

Niall reluctantly accepted, feeling more and more strange by the moment. Why had he been so stupid as to do three lines of cocaine? Had he not he wouldn’t even be in this situation! Then he quickly remembered all of the reasons he’d decided it would be a good idea to do so many hits in the first place. It made him feel a little sick.

“Yeah,” he said, nodding at her slightly. Then he stepped aside and allowed her into his room.

“She’s going to talk to you for an hour, but if you need longer, that’s all right,” Paul said, looking at him. “Do you want me to stay?”

Niall shook his head. If talking to a complete stranger about the mess that had become his life seemed bad, talking about it in front of Paul seemed all the more worse. “No, that’s okay.”

“All right, I’ll be off then,” Paul said, nodding a quick goodbye to the two of them and leaving, shutting the door behind him.

Jessica sat down in the plush chair beneath the large window in the room and looked at Niall. He sat down on the edge of his bed that faced her, not really sure what to do or say. He didn’t even know if he was supposed to be the first one to speak or what. He didn’t exactly want to just get right into it because he had no clue where to start.

Luckily Jessica was trained in that sort of thing.

“So, Niall,” she said warmly, looking at him easily, even though he was sort of averting his gaze to the floor. “Tell me a little bit about yourself.”

Niall raised his eyebrow. That was a weird question, given that she obviously knew everything there was to know about him, and what she didn’t know she was there to help him sort out. Why should she care about anything that wasn’t his drug addiction or dead ex-girlfriend?

Or possible affections for his best friend, but he wasn’t even sure he wanted to get into that, despite the fact that it had creeped into his mind.

“What?” he asked. “You mean like, how I took three lines of cocaine and almost died? Don’t you already know that?”

She didn’t let his attitude faze her, and Niall wasn’t sure if he found that off-putting. Usually he was the one in control when he talked to people, and he wasn’t liking the fact that she was obviously an easy person to talk to.

“No,” she said, keeping an even and calm tone in her voice. “We’ll get to that. Just tell me about yourself a little bit.”

“Like what?” He had no idea what she was on about. Wasn’t she supposed to be helping him and not making ridiculous small talk?

“Anything you think is important. How can I help you if I don’t feel like I know you?”

Niall shrugged. He supposed that made sense, and he wasn’t entirely eager to get to talking about all of his problems right away anyway. “I don’t know,” he said finally, even though he was still a little weary. “How do I know you’re not going to go off and sell this story to some magazine?” he questioned. He was being a little bit paranoid, and he very well knew it.

“Aside from the fact I’d lose my licence,” she said with a shake of her head. “I’d never do something like that to anyone.”

“Yeah?” Niall asked, still holding his guards up, even though he wasn’t quite sure why. He knew he was going to have to talk to her eventually, Paul would make sure of it. But how was he supposed to spill anything if he didn’t feel like he knew her? “Maybe you tell me about yourself first.”

“Okay,” she said. “That’s fair. I grew up in Indiana, and I went to college there too. I knew I wanted to get into counselling ever since I was in high school, since our school had a really great counsellor. I’ve been doing this for… quite a while and I really, really enjoy it. I love helping people. And when I’m not working I like listening to music and writing.”

Niall nodded, thinking that was all very blase, but at least she seemed genuine. “Why’d you apply for this job, then? Is it because you saw it was for some messed up popstar and you wanted to see what really went on with One Direction?”

She shook her head. “No. I didn’t even know this had anything to do with you or your group until I accepted the job, they never said who it was for. I was looking for a new job with a change of scenery, and this one offered a change of scenery daily.”

Niall felt a little better upon hearing that. “Yeah,” he said, not really able to argue with that. Despite how hard he’d found touring to be recently, he really did enjoy the thrill of being in a different city every day. He could hardly imagine going to work in the same office day in and day out.

“So are you ready to tell me a bit about yourself now?”

He shrugged, not really knowing what to say. His whole life didn’t even seem to make sense anymore, and to be honest he wasn’t even quite sure who he was. “I grew up in this small town in Ireland, but I live in London now. I get on pretty good with my mum, I guess,” he said, thinking about how much he missed her at that moment. “I like a bit of football and obviously guitar and singing.”

He looked at her, thinking how oddly simple his explanation of his life had been. Really, everything felt overly complicated.

“Yeah?” she asked him. “What’s that like, living in London compared to where you grew up?”

Niall frowned a little, wondering what that had to do with anything as well as worrying that she was going to go into some in-depth analysis of his childhood. He didn’t really need any of that – his childhood had been fine. Even through his parents’ divorce he’d been okay.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s just different. There’s always something to do and there’s loads of people around all the time. I’ve got so many friends, but…” he stopped, not really wanting to finish that sentence. Not really wanting to tell her that he had so many friends but he often felt alone.

She didn’t press him. Instead, she changed the subject a little. “You obviously love being in the group,” she smiled. “You guys are really good.”

Niall looked at her oddly. “Yeah? You actually know our songs and stuff?”

She couldn’t help but laugh a bit at his humility. “Of course I do,” she said. “You’re on the radio all the time. Anyway, it’s clear that you really love it.”

“I really do,” he nodded, because he really did.

“Tell me about it,” she said. “How did all of this happen for you?”

He relaxed a little. This was easy – he could tell her about all the good parts of his life. He smiled a bit. “I auditioned for X Factor,” he began, and in no time he was rattling off all the high points of his career.

Nevermind the voice in the back of his head that shouted at him whenever he said Liam’s name. Because every time he thought of Liam, he remembered kissing him softly. And that was definitely something he wasn’t ready to deal with, so he didn’t focus on it.

The rest of the hour went by before Niall realized it. He supposed that was probably a good thing, given that he hadn’t even wanted to talk to this woman in the first place. Now, he found himself focusing on the positive things in his life and everything good that had happened to him in the past few years rather than all of the bad that had happened in the past few months.

***

None of the boys wanted to touch the subject of Niall’s counselling session at dinner, and for the he was relieved. He wasn’t really sure what he would tell them, and he still wasn’t sure how he felt about the whole thing. Sure, Jessica seemed nice enough, and he’d felt better after talking to her.

It was just that he knew tomorrow, he was going to have to start telling her real things and trying to sort out all of his problems.

At the mere thought of that, he remembered everything that had gone down, and the food in his mouth suddenly lost all flavour.

“Niall?” Harry asked, giving him a look. “You all right, mate?”

“Yeah,” Niall said after swallowing quickly. He took a large sip of the glass of water in front of him. “Fine.”

Liam glanced over at Niall. He wanted to tell him how much brighter and happier he looked after just talking to someone about his problems for one hour – but he didn’t. Like the others, he didn’t want to touch on the subject of the counselling, and he wasn’t even sure how to go about asking.

But he really did want to let his friend know that he cared, and he didn’t want things to be awkward between them.

He picked at the last of the french fries on his plate and scooped of the dessert menu. “What do you say, Nialler?” Liam asked, glancing over the glossy piece of paper. He knew Niall was always up for dessert. “You want to share one with me?”

Niall looked down at his half-eaten burger and the few spare fries left on his plate. Honestly, he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to finish his meal now, let alone eat dessert.

Plus, there was something off about sharing with Liam. He didn’t think it would have bothered him so much had it been any of the other boys who had asked. He likely would have told them no, that he didn’t think he could eat anymore. But with Liam he was suddenly thinking about all the weird, romantic connotations that came with sharing dessert, along with the fact that he felt bad for denying his friend.

Still, his stomach churned at the thought of putting any more food into it. Now that he was worrying about all of his problems again, he felt sick and empty. He’d felt better after his first session, but he was well aware it was going to take time.

And without drugs or alcohol to numb the pain, all Niall could to was sit there and feel gloomy.

“Nah, that’s all right,” Niall said, shaking his head slightly and pushing his plate away a little bit. “I’m stuffed, really.”

Liam nodded, putting the menu back in the wire holder he’d pulled it from. The other boys exchanged a glance, but didn’t say anything. After all, Niall forcing half his meal down and coming out to eat with them was an accomplishment in itself. It was clear to all of them that he was really trying.

“Cheers, lads,” Harry said, raising his water glass and breaking the silence that had washed over their table.

“To what?” Louis asked him oddly, raising his eyebrow and stifling a giggle.

“To the beginning of our American tour,” Harry said with a confident grin.

The five of them looked at each other. They shrugged, but they couldn’t help but raise their glasses as well. It was a bit odd, sitting in a Denny’s toasting to their tour that hadn’t quite begun yet, but it was rather fitting for their group.

As they clinked their glasses together, Niall and Liam caught each other’s eyes and smiled awkwardly. Liam took a quick sip of his drink and Niall looked back down at the table.

Things were far from being completely repaired between them, but they hoped that in time, they would turn out to be okay.

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